Teaching Youth that Brains Can Change Prevents Depression Symptoms


Teaching youth that the brain is not immutably fixed and that people can change has significant impacts on preventing depressive symptoms from arising, according to research published in Clinical Psychological Science.

Knowing that depression often arises during adolescence, psychologists from Emory University and the University of Texas started from the premise that, “If the seed of depression is the belief that negative events cannot improve, then one way to prevent depressive symptoms from growing might be to teach the idea that people can change.”

The researchers performed a double-blind, active-placebo-controlled experiment with 599 adolescents, in which only some were taught an “incremental theory of personality.” These participants learned that “if you are excluded or victimized, it is not due to a fixed, personal deficiency on your part” and that “people who exclude or victimize you are not fixed, bad people but, instead, have complicated motivations that are subject to change.”

These participants also read a neuroscience article showing that feelings, behaviors and neural pathways in the brain can be changed. “This was done to provide adolescents with a scientific basis for believing in the potential for change (rather than telling adolescents the platitude that ‘people can change’),” explained the researchers.

The control group received similar information, but only in reference to improving athletic ability, not psychological and personality changes.

In a follow-up analysis at the end of the school year, compared to the control group, the young people who’d participated in the one-time intervention in September showed a reduction in the prevalence of clinical levels of depressive symptoms by 40%.

The researchers cautioned that the intervention did not reduce instances or severity of clinically diagnosed depressions; rather, it reduced the overall prevalence of depressive symptoms arising in non-depressed youth. They concluded that, “(I)t is encouraging that the present theoretically informed strategy of intervening to teach an incremental theory of personality appears to have made some headway on a seemingly intractable issue — universal prevention for depressive symptoms during adolescence.”

Preventing Symptoms of Depression by Teaching Adolescents That People Can Change: Effects of a Brief Incremental Theory of Personality Intervention at 9-Month Follow-Up (Miu, Adriana Sum and Yeager, David Scott. Clinical Psychological Science. Published online before print September 15, 2014. doi: 10.1177/2167702614548317)


  1. Bring on more and bigger studies on this intervention, and then have the derived material taught in every school in the country, hopefully inoculating kids against the lies and deceptions of drug companies and the psychiatric industry’s lies. Telling kids that they are stuck in their worst nightmare and will remain so forever because they are inherently defective is simply evil.

    How confronting this research must be for the biochemical and genetic theorists as well as the various psychoanalytic mobs!

    Oh….and potentially terrifying for the pharmaceutical companies.

    Excellent indeed.

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    • “Telling kids [or any human being] that they are stuck in their worst nightmare and will remain so forever because they are inherently [genetically] defective is simply evil.” I completely agree, but had thought eugenics was discredited decades ago. I wonder how long it will take the doctors, and those still teaching medical students eugenics, to figure this out.

      I agree with barrab, too, “absence of psychiatry = benefit,” especially since the psychopharmacutical industries are spewing blatant lies at the masses.

      I do so hope some day the medical community will get away from creating “mental illnesses,” and start trying to prevent illnesses again (without the use of psychotropic drugs). I personally don’t have any desire to deal with lunatics who want to “manage” iatrogenic illnesses in me – what a sick joke mainstream medicine has become. Greed has destroyed the credibility of the medical community.

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  2. This shows the benefit of Psychology and how it can be used to improve young peoples mental health. Seeing the ‘full picture’ to understand other peoples behavior in Buddhism is called ‘detachment’; and the reality itself is positive.

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  3. People used to have minds where now they have brains, and I don’t think brains an improvement. If we excise consciousness, it’s merely a transmission of neurons, is it not? It being something we used to call “thought”. It’s a lot easier to change your mind than it is to change your brain, and I’m not sure changing your brain is that highly commendable. Do you really have to change your brain to feel happy? Change your mind, and you’re there. Alright, kid. Could you change your brain back into a mind? It might help when it comes to completing classroom assignments, that is, unless you need an ADHD medication connection to get the work done. (Something I wouldn’t advise, as like other drugs, amphetamines shrink brain mass.) They might not have this problem if they’d just teach kids minds can change.

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  4. I agree. At its best, this program is merely teaching students what ordinary folk have known for millennia, namely, that people can change and that people aren’t black and white. At its worst, it conveys a popular version of neurobabble, the equation of personhood with brain, that is not only not contrary to the propaganda of the psychoactive drug industry but in fact is quite consistent with it.

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  5. At least this is a step in the right direction. Anything that’s more flexible than the “you have a biological disease for life” message is better, I think. Hopefully this common sense message will be developed and more young people will get to hear it.

    Often I hear people in the wider world dismiss childhood experiences as causing trauma or emotional distress down the line and the problem with that is they’re looking at it from an adults perspective. “Your mother/father did/said X to you? That couldn’t possibly affect you now that you’re 30.”

    Adults forget that kids and yes, even adolescents (despite what they themselves claim) are impressionable and swallow the messages they get from the adults around them. If you’ve been told or shown throughout your younger years you are worthless/selfish/lazy/ugly etc. that message sinks in, wreaks havoc with your emotions and self-image and can take a while to undo.

    I think the reason that the emotional distress from childhood experiences lingers into adulthood is because no one teaches kids and young people what effects the trauma/abuse can have or how to deal with it. So when they end up with feelings of depression and anxiety it’s labeled as “bad brain chemistry which obviously needs to be medicated for life.” instead of an unfortunate, but normal response to their experience.

    We may not be able to eradicate the world of all abuse but if we could give kids and adolescents the skills/tools to not buy into the negative messages that abuse creates and how to create a positive self-image themselves it would be so awesome and prevent problems down the line.

    Conclusion: children and adolescents are impressionable and need to get the right info!

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    • “I hear people in the wider world dismiss childhood experiences as causing trauma or emotional distress down the line”
      I would not dismiss it, in fact the whole field of psychology emphasizes the importance of early development for crating right social bonds, emotionality etc. But I think that many people overemphasize childhood as opposed to later in life. People can be traumatised and hurt and abused as adults and end up feeling quite desperate even if their childhoods are nearly perfect. Having someone you love or even a group of people you don’t really care about but have to interact with dismiss you, say hurtful things about you or exclude and isolate you can do damage to anyone’s “mental health” regardless of age. Even if you tell yourself rationally that they’re just a bunch of a***es you may end up overthinking (“Am I really dumb/ugly? Why are they making fun of me? Did he lie or did I really make a mistake?”). There are many ways of gaslighting and mobbing and in other ways abusing people and they work even on the most perfectly adjusted adults. The only protection against such things is in fact having real meaningful relationships with people who “are worth it” and can provide a reality check, a luxury that not everyone and not always has.

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  6. fluffybunny,

    I totally agree with you and there are other decent experts out there providing the same message that one can change one’s mind/brain without drugs including bad habits, OCD and other problems like Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz in his great program and book, You Are Not Your Brain: The Four Step Solution for Changing Bad Habits.



    Since our entire society and most of the world has been “brainwashed” by the mental death profession to believe their never ending blaming the victims evil eugenics lies, we do need to be unbrainwashed and realize that the lies inflicted on us by verbal and psychological abusers are projections of their own narcissism and lack of empathy/humanity/conscience.

    So, I agree that this article is a very positive one and it sure is a welcome antidote against psychiatry’s never ending assaults on humanity and children especially that they have defective brains, will be “mentally ill” for life and need to under psychiatric/police surveillance for life while robbed of all human/civil rights and take their toxic drugs, ECT and/or the latest brain disabling/damaging “treatment” du jour that lines their pockets with the current 1% robber barons they truly serve.

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  7. The authors fail to follow up with the corollary of their conclusion: If telling adolescents that their brain is flexible and can be changed decreases depressive symptoms, does it not follow that telling them their brains are INFLEXIBLE and can’t be changed (i.e. “you have a chemical imbalance,” “you have a biological brain disease, like diabetes” or “you need to take your medication for life”) would INCREASE the likelihood of depressive symptoms? Since what you tell people makes a difference, why aren’t we looking at whether telling people what we tell them now is helpful or unhelpful? I’d love to see someone do a survey of people’s symptoms vs. the message they got from their provider when they complained of feeling depressed. I’d bet my mortgage that telling someone they have a “brain disease” that is “incurable” but can be “managed” with “medication” (notwithstanding the actual effects of the “medication” itself) would make people more depressed. It’s depressing to me just to write it down!

    —- Steve

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  8. Well, by extension then, what will it do if you take these same people and tell them they have an incurable mental illness and will be chronically ill and on meds for the rest of their lives?

    “Our study corroborates findings that biogenetic explanations have different effects in different disorders, and seem to be harmful in depression and schizophrenia. A particular de-stigmatizing potential of the causal belief ‘chemical imbalance’ could not be found.”

    “The present findings add to a growing literature highlighting the unhelpful and potentially iatrogenic effects of attributing depressive symptoms to a chemical imbalance.”

    “there is evidence that patients are negatively affected if they believe their depression is wholly explained by (the vague descriptor) of ‘biochemical imbalance'”


    Maybe enough already with the “biochemical imbalance” bs?

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